Eight Honored with SUNY Chancellor’s Awards

heashots of four students are above, and four more below a logo that says Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence
Chancellor's Award winners are, clockwise from top left: Julie Jasewicz , Habib Affinnih, Christian Vitek, Haisha Famuyide, Kayleigh Ross, Kevin Thomas, Kavipriya Kovai Palanivel and Maxim Couillard.

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 19, 2022) — Eight outstanding UAlbany students will be honored Tuesday with the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, which is the highest award SUNY bestows. Chancellor’s Award winners are selected for outstanding achievements in academics, leadership, campus involvement, community service and the arts.

The SUNY-wide awards ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Springs. UAlbany recipients are:

Habib Affinnih

Affinnih, of Rensselaer, graduated summa cum laude in computer science and applied mathematics in three and a half years while simultaneously pursuing his master’s degree in computer science. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, a certified tutor, and a research assistant developing an Android application that helps spread emergency preparedness information in rural areas with low internet connectivity.

After graduating with his master’s, Affinnih will be moving to Massachusetts where he has a job as an associate software engineer with the Mitre Corporation. At Mitre and in his future endeavors, his goal is to work on solving problems to make the world a safer place.

Affinnih said that being a member of the UAlbany Running Exchange (UARE) stood out among his UAlbany experiences. “The group of friends I grew from our daily runs was one of the few things that kept me grounded and sane over the last two years of pandemic,” he said. “The UARE has one of the kindest and most inviting communities of athletes I've ever met. Whether you've been running for years or have never run before, I can't think of a better place to simultaneously improve your physical and mental health while making some great friends.”

Maxim Couillard

An Atmospheric Science major with minors in Film Studies and Mathematics, Couillard has blended science and the arts during his time at UAlbany. He is a clarinetist and avid composer, and a filmmaker who is president of the student television club and has produced dozens of videos. His research on ozone air pollution in the New York City metropolitan area was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. This research will be used to better forecast hazardous breathing conditions and improve public health. 

Couillard, a native of the Albany area, plans to continue to work at analyzing severe thunderstorms with long-term goals of improving weather forecasting and working on climate change issues. Ultimately, he’d like to combine his passion for science and film through broadcasting or making educational videos.

“Working with my research advisors Brian Tang and Ross Lazear studying the severe thunderstorm of Oct. 7, 2020, has been an invaluable learning experience. Being able to present this research at a national conference felt like the hard work paid off,” Couillard said. “Premiering an original short film with Albany Student Television was an incredible experience. Being able to work with a group of 10 motivated students on a creative project despite the pandemic was highly rewarding.”

Haisha Famuyide

Famuyida, a Finance and Marketing major from Long Island, will be taking a job in the consulting branch of Ernst and Young after graduation. Down the road she plans to pursue an MBA and eventually start her own consulting and marketing firm.

“My experience working as the director of Student Group Affairs within the Student Association has really shaped my experience at UAlbany,” she said, noting that advising other students on the process of creating new clubs and organizations was a highlight. “My favorite part of the Student Association has been putting on large scale events and giving out scholarships and awards to highlight students. Being able to collaborate with others and spread UAlbany culture to give students a well-rounded college experience has been a defining part of my four years here.”

Famuyide is president of Sankofa Africa Organization and was awarded the second annual Women's Scholarship from the brothers of the Magnificent Mu lota Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity for her commitment to the community.

Julie Jasewicz

Jasewicz, of Dolgeville, will graduate in May with an Honors Psychology major and minors in Leadership and International Studies with Global Distinction. She plans to pursue a PhD in industrial/organizational psychology and eventually focus on social justice and diversity and inclusion work in the nonprofit field.

She served as president of the Newman Association and director of Academic Affairs for the Student Association, where she helped design the curriculum for a social justice minor, and is a member of the Phi Betta Kappa Honors Society. She spent a portion of a semester studying positive psychology in Copenhagen as part of the Global Distinction program before COVID broke out. She followed up with a virtual summer internship.

Of her UAlbany experience she said: “Being president of the Newman Association has been the most meaningful position I have ever held, and they really are my family.” But picking a favorite moment is almost impossible “because so many magic moments happened to me here. If I had to capture one feeling it would be of unconditional love and acceptance. Here I was able to be every part of myself authentically.”

Kavipriya Kovai Palanivel 

An Honors Biology major with a minor in Public Health, Kovai Palanivel will be attending Norton College of Medicine at SUNY Upstate though the Upstate Accelerated Scholar program, a combined BS/MD program.

“At UAlbany, I am grateful for my undergraduate research experience in the Herschkowitz Lab at the UAlbany Cancer Research Center, my leadership experiences in Doctors For (IV) Hope, and my peer mentoring position for the Writing and Critical Inquiry department,” she said.

Kovai Palanivel, whose family lives in Mechanicville, presented her research into breast cancer in the 2021 Biology Department Undergraduate Research Symposium and the 2021 Bioinformatics Summer Program hosted by the RNA Institute. She volunteered in the call center at the Albany County Department of Health during COVID-19 and in the nursing units of Albany Medical Center. On the side, she practices Bharatanatyam dance.

Kayleigh Ross

Ross, an Art History major with minors in Biology and Studio Art, intends to pursue a career in medicine. This fall she will begin studying at Albany Medical College after being accepted in her junior year though the Early Assurance Pathway Program. Her goal is to work with underserved communities as a primary care adolescent specialist.

With an interest in the interdisciplinary approaches between the arts and sciences, Ross did her departmental honors thesis on 18th century medical illustrations and the developments of gynecology. She did independent research with Professor Lawrence Schell on American Indian and Alaskan Native adolescent mortality rates, which resulted in a paper that is pending review and publication. She received the Spellman Top Academic Achievement Award for each of her undergraduate academic years.

“My time at UAlbany has been a collection of opportunities,” Ross said, listing early highlights as working in the Preservation Department in the Science Library, serving on the EBoard of TriBeta National Biological Honor Society, and her research with Schell. The final opportunity at UAlbany, she said, came through “Dr. Sarah Cohen, who taught me in many of her classes, served as my departmental advisor and my honors thesis advisor this year, and who has also supported me in presenting at a national juried research symposium this month.”

Kevin Thomas

An Honors Biology major and Bioethics minor from Albany, Thomas is another Upstate Accelerated Scholar who will begin his studies at Norton College of Medicine at SUNY Upstate in the fall. In the future, he plans to be a physician involved in community outreach, research and bioethics.

He is the president of the UAlbany Red Cross, conducts single-molecule biophysics research at the RNA Institute, volunteers at Albany Medical Center, is the secretary for Doctors for Hope, and has received several awards for his academic and campus involvement. He presented his research in February at a biophysics conference in San Francisco.

“My most meaningful experiences at UAlbany include engaging in research in the Halvorsen Lab at the RNA Institute and being president of the UAlbany Red Cross,” he said. “They’ve both been very impactful and I’ve received invaluable mentorship and support through them.”

Christian Vitek

Vitek is a Political Science major and Leadership minor from Walton, N.Y. His long-tern goals include public service to uplift people and communities, and he hopes all future plans will be rooted in happiness.

As a first-generation and low-income student, and a queer child raised in rural America, Vitek is passionate about applying his academics towards remedying disparities in marginalized communities. A highlight of his time at UAlbany was his legislative employment with Sen. Reichlin-Melnick. Vitek was one of 18 students across the state selected for the Senate Undergraduate Session Assistants Program. He drafted a model piece of legislation to amend New York’s Open Meetings Law, which is under consideration by Reichlin-Melnick.

Vitek founded the organization Young Progressives of Delaware County to protect civil rights mobilization, improve rural voting rights and expand local government accessibility. At UAlbany, he served as a Purple & Gold Ambassador, orientation leader, resident assistant and president of Alpha Phi Omega.

He plans to continue his legislative work in the U.S. House of Representatives after graduation.